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"I felt really ready."
Vanessa Kirby may have already been Emmy-nominated for her role in The Crown, but the stark indie Pieces of a Woman presented the actress with a new challenge: Her first leading role in a film. Yet the actress, who also starred earlier this year in the acclaimed queer period piece The World to Come, did the work to get there: "I'd watched lots of people do it, and I was waiting [for] my time."
It's now here, and few could ask for a better outcome: Netflix swiftly acquired Pieces out of its Venice premiere and released it in time for the 2021 awards season. Kirby can now call herself a Golden Globe, Critics' Choice, SAG Award, and — yes — Oscar nominee for Best Actress. She may have sealed the deal in the first scene alone: Her character Martha goes into labor, only for her baby to die after giving birth in a nearly 30-minute, one-take opening sequence.
"It was incredibly daunting because we didn't quite know how we were going to do it," Kirby, who joins EW's The Awardist podcast this week, says of the build-up to filming the moment. "We had a couple of days where we worked through the dance of it. And then the first morning, we were so nervous, I think none of us slept. We [completed] our first take that morning and did four the first day; [director Kornél Mundruczó] used the fourth. It was the best filming experience of my life."
Benjamin Loeb / Netflix
Did it take a lot out of her? Not exactly. "I was more afraid of having to, like, cut, go for a break, and then maybe go into the final part of the labor, having just had lunch," she says with a laugh. "I haven't given birth myself, and I felt like such a duty to every woman that has and every man that has been there witnessing a woman do it: 'Oh, I have to get this right.'"
For much of the rest of the film, Kirby internalizes Martha's agony, a woman in a silent, searing kind of mourning. She took lessons from playing Princess Margaret to how she approached such an embodiment. "Princess Margaret literally wakes up in the morning and she wears what she's feeling — she taught me about that relationship," she explains. "For Martha, that was interesting. [Clothes] always felt like armor, because of how she's feeling. She doesn't want any of her skin exposed or anyone to really look, to see her pain."
Watch the conversation above, or listen to it as part of our latest Awardist podcast episode below. Pieces of a Woman is now streaming on Netflix.
Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.